Puttanesca is one of those dinners pretty much anyone should know how to make. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it’s extremely delicious. It’s also vegetarian bar the anchovies, and they’re optional!

It also requires no more than two hobs on the cooker, which is good if you’re in a wee apartment.

Like most of the Italian recipes people know around the world, this one is probably very different from what they actually cook in Italy, but… so be it.

All you need for this dish is:

  • Olive oil
  • Some pasta
  • Garlic
  • Anchovies
  • Capsicums
  • Decent olives
  • Herbs, any will do
  • A cheap tin of tomatoes

What I’ve heard is that puttanesca means “[lady of the night]’s dinner”. So it’s something you can whip up easily to entertain a guest you’d rather have the heck out of your house…

And here we go!

The first thing to do is put a medium-sized pot of water on to boil. You’ll use this for the pasta later in the piece. Then, chop your garlic. You should be familiar with the drill by now. Chop it as fine or rough as you like, and put it to one side.

The next step is to include the “whatever” ingredients. In this case it is capsicum, in particular, roasted and preserved capsicums. I got these from Moore Wilsons, and they’re great for this sort of dish. You can use fresh, but… it’s just not as nice. I just slice them, and wa-la! They’re done.

And that’s your prep. Add a healthy slug of olive oil to your pan, and then get the garlic into it. I sometimes remember to add a small knob of butter to the dish to make it more rich. Fry the garlic very gently without burning it or turning it brown. This means a low gentle heat. You can use a higher heat, but you have to assemble the dish much, much more quickly.

While the garlic is frying gently, add the anchovies, as many as you like. Other than the mild fishy flavour, this will salt the dish. So keep that in mind when you add the olives, which also salt it.

Next, get the sliced capsicums into the pan and keep on frying the whole schmoozle. While that is frying gently (to boil off any liquids in the pan), put the pasta on to cook. As much as you like, generally enough for the two people this meal feeds.

I love this mortar, so insist on showing it in every post I can… Grind some fresh black pepper and add to the dish.

Once these things are all added, get the tin of tomatoes into the pan, stir everything together well, and keep it all simmering.You can see at this point that it is still quite “wet”.

It’s now I add about a tablespoon of my favourite herb. It can be oregano, thyme, basil, whatever you like. I use dried herbs generally, because they’re cheaper. Turn the pasta to a low to medium heat, and grate some parmesan cheese to top the dish.

Ideally what you want is the pasta and the sauce to be ready about the same time, which takes a little practice. But, either can sit off the heat if the other isn’t ready. What you’ve wanted to do is reduce and thicken the puttanesca, as shown above right.

Once the sauce is ready, you want to drain the pasta and add to the pan, mixing the lot through gently. Let this all simmer together for a minute.

The idea, as explained to me, is to make a sauce that the pasta can “hold”. This means that the pasta doesn’t swim in a great tomatoey soup, but forms part of the sauce itself. You should be abel to stack a good pasta sauce, like so: